Ko Phraya Petch: a refuge for ferocious elephants

2 elephants bathing, crystal clear sea, white sand, wild jungle

2 elephants bathing, crystal clear sea, white sand, wild jungle: Flickr.com

Ferocious killer elephants have been capturing headlines–and public wonder–in Thailand’s local news, but the reasons for the mounting numbers of elephants with an attitude–just why they have become ferocious, is not clear. However, in Thailand’s central Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya province, there is an ancient sanctuary founded long ago dedicated solely to provide shelter to calm the spirits of disturbed elephants and to provide them a grounding place to live quietly.

Not only is this elephant shelter, the so-called ‘Ko Phraya Petch’, for brutal elephants, but next to it is Ayutthaya province’s Royal Elephant Kraal, where others including the most recent killer elephant called ‘Natalie’ are looked after.

Surrounded by a large loop of the Lop Buri River, Ko Phraya Petch covers over 20 rai of land (about 8 acres) with forests and big trees providing a more natural habitat that is now home to more than 20 ferocious elephants, all of which are former killer elephants and war elephants.

Among them who now roam freely at Ko Phraya Petch is a male elephant which six years ago killed seven people in Kanchanaburi province. He was injured so badly he almost could not survive. Fortunately, he was brought for a rehabilitation process here.

Another killer elephant came from Phuket. An iron bar locking both sides of his ivory tusks is still a must for him to control his atrocious behaviour. The differences between tourist elephants and those at Ko Phraya Petch are that those here possess some of the special traits of fighting elephants which are suitable to only participate in some traditional ceremonial rites.

According to Royal Elephant Kraal owner and Prakochaban Foundation chairman, Laithongrien Meepan, elephant behaviours depend on how a mahout raises and trains them. If elephants are nurtured under stress and pressure, they will become very violent like those killer elephants in the news.

“When the elephants arrived here, they’ve just become nicer themselves. That’s because of how we look after them or of the conditions we offer them, which is something this kind of elephants can take,” Mr Laithongrien said.

“You know, some elephants are born to be slaves for humans. We call them ‘working elephants’. They’ll just do anything we tell them to do. On the contrary, ferocious elephants won’t do such thing. So, if you want to live compatibly with them, you’ll have to treat them like friends, make them feel they’re being treated equally as you.”

Many killer elephants are sent to Ko Phraya Petch, while surprisingly ‘Natalie’, the most recent tourist-turned-assassin elephant from southern Thailand, was not sent there. The 35-year-old female, who was named after Miss Universe 2005, who is also the wife of a Thai tennis player, Natalie Glebova, killed 8 innocent people in Trang province. Among the victims was the elder brother of her ex-owner, who later had to resell her for the
safety of other villagers.

The Royal Elephant Kraal took Natalie under its wing, as to everyone’s surprise, she was not fierce by nature to be grounded at Ko Phraya Petch.

According to the Kraal, Nathalie went beserk and began attacking people after being forced to work relentlessly and separated from her offspring.

Mr Laithongrien said all Natalie’s violent behaviour disappeared after three baby elephants of two years of age were brought in to play with her. She became tender and could quickly adapt herself to live a normal life in the jumbo world.

“Natalie has never been mean to the young elephants, and they like her. They go and get close to her side by side all the time. And when the three are starting to fight, Natalie will always make sound which says something like ‘Hey, don’t fight, don’t fight’,” said Mr Laithongrien, chairman of the foundation established to protect elephants from exploitation throughout their lives.

“Some of Natalie’s voice we hear is similar to that of a king cobra. It’s like a whistle that the elephant howls in the neck. You know, I’d never heard that sound before. It’s like she’s calling for the babies to come see her, like a delightful voice that says ‘Oh yeah, baby, come to mama, come’.”

Due to maltreatment and oppression to the pachyderm, Mr Laithongrien believes there are some brutal elephants out there still waiting for human assistance. To prevent violent killings that elephants might commit to man, he urged the mahouts or elephant owners to look after their giant beasts with understanding and, if possible, keep those cruel ones in controlled areas like that at Ko Phraya Petch in order that the elephants, regarded as Thailand’s national symbol, can adapt themselves to live normally and that we can conserve the animal. (TNA)